Think “Jeep” and the iconic mug of the Wrangler likely pops into your mind, but as much as the Jeep Wrangler might be the face of the Jeep brand, it’s not the vehicle that pays all the bills. Currently those vehicles are all crossovers: the Cherokee, the Renegade, and the Patriot/Compass twins. Despite record sales across the board last year, it’s the latter crossovers representing the bulk of Jeep sales in North America. With the compact CUV market expected to grow 20 percent globally by 2020, Jeep paid special attention to their replacement: the new 2017 Jeep Compass.
Designed to replace both the outgoing Compass and Patriot, the new 2017 Compass is in FCA-speak a “4.4-meter vehicle,” which is a globally relevant size that fits squarely between the 4.2-meter Renegade and 4.6-meter Cherokee. Built on a stretched version of the Renegade’s small-wide 4×4 architecture at four different factories worldwide, the new Compass will be available with one engine option, three transmission options, and two drivetrain options in North America. Powering all Compasses here is FCA’s Tigershark 2.4-liter I-4 making 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive models come with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive versions get the six-speed manual or the infamous ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic.
With the Compass expected to become the brand’s best-seller worldwide within the next few years, Jeep has to walk a fine line with its new compact crossover. The Compass has to appeal both to mainstream buyers buying Jeep for its reputation and enthusiasts who expect a Jeep to get them to hell and back. For the former, Jeep offers up the Compass Sport, Latitude, and Limited, with the Latitude expected to be the big seller. The latter gets the Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
OFF-ROAD ALL THINGS: 2017 JEEP COMPASS TRAILHAWK
Anyone with even a casual understanding of world history knows that Jeep made its name crossing the deserts of North Africa, storming the beaches of the South Pacific, and navigating the forests of Western Europe, so it’s no surprise then that Jeep feels the need to make sure that every model in its lineup has at least some sort of off-road credibility.
For the past decade or so, the most capable models have all worn a Trail Rated badge on the driver-side front fender, and even more recently, these models have proudly showed off their trail rated abilities with factory suspension lifts, bright red tow hooks, and a Trailhawk badge on their rump.
The first-ever Jeep Compass Trailhawk is no different.
Bridging the capability gap between the Renegade Trailhawk and Cherokee Trailhawk, the Compass Trailhawk gets a few unique pieces to make it more capable off-road than your standard Compass. Jeep starts with a 0.5-inch suspension lift to improve ground clearance to 8.5 inches, and it supplements the lift with off-road oriented tires on 17-inch wheels and redesigned front and rear bumpers to improve approach, break over, and departure angles to 30.3, 24.4, and 33.6 degrees, respectively.
Jeep then got to work on its all-wheel-drive system. Like the Renegade Trailhawk, the Compass Trailhawk gets Jeep’s Active Drive Low all-wheel-drive system. Working in conjunction with the Selec-Terrain system, Active Drive Low swaps in a higher final drive ratio and reprograms the Compass Trailhawk’s nine-speed automatic to start in second gear, using first gear to mimic low-range with a 20:1 crawl ratio. Jeep opted to leave the Cherokee Trailhawk’s Active Drive Lock unit, a true four-wheel-drive system, on the shelf due to weight and packaging constraints. Jeep finishes things off with a 0.2-inch thick high-strength steel skidplates to protect the engine, transmission, transfer case, front suspension, and fuel tank, functional tow hooks, and some unique visual cues.
Although off-road oriented, Jeep doesn’t deny the fact that most Compass Trailhawk drivers will spend the majority of their time driving on the pavement. A fair amount of engineering effort went into ensuring the Compass is enjoyable to drive on the road. As I discovered navigating Texas Hill Country, the Jeep is a surprisingly enjoyable corner carver. Steering effort is moderately light, and despite the off-road oriented tires, feedback from the road is good. Even more impressive than its steering feel is its suspension and chassis tuning. The Compass’ near-flat cornering behavior would normally hint at a stiffly sprung suspension, but thanks to Jeep’s use of Koni dampers, the Compass also manages to ride softly over the rough stuff. Potholes and speed bumps don’t upset the Compass Trailhawk’s ride or transfer any gut giggle to occupants. Even in extreme events such as getting airborne, the Compass isn’t upset too much—the suspension rebounds against its bump stops and then compresses when the Jeep returns to the earth, but no undue punishment is transferred to the cabin.
As for the new Jeep’s powertrain, there’s no getting around the fact that the Compass is slow. Painfully slow, at times. At 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque, the 2.4-liter I-4 just doesn’t have enough juice to move the 3,650-pound Compass Trailhawk with any semblance of urgency. Jeep says 0-60 mph ought to take about 9.4 seconds, a number that could probably be verified by the driver in that Toyota Tacoma I accidentally cut off when I thought two football fields-worth of roadway would be enough room to accelerate for a merge. The naturally aspirated I-4 is perfectly fine around town and under light acceleration loads, but it could really use a little extra horsepower and a just a bit more torque to improve its drivability. For those buyers overseas that get the optional diesel engines, I imagine the added torque of those powerplants would be the way to go.
As for the Compass’ nine-speed automatic, despite the well-documented early issues with this transmission, this iteration feels to be one of the best yet. The lurchiness and low-speed jerkiness that would rear their heads in heavy traffic couldn’t be replicated during my time behind the wheel in San Antonio traffic. When the road opens up, the transmission up-shifts smoothly and at appropriate times. The nine-speed won’t hesitate to drop down a gear if need be on the highway, but it will take a good Mississippi or so to downshift more than two gears if you mat the throttle.
More than capable of handling the daily grind, the Compass Trailhawk also has to be able to handle a weekend warrior’s off-road needs. The Compass Trailhawk’s various off-road settings and modes are all controlled through a rotary knob and three buttons located just forward of the gear shift. The buttons are 4WD Lock (the all-wheel-drive system otherwise only routes power to the rear when needed), 4WD Low (which is really just first gear), and hill-descent control. The knob controls the Compass Trailhawk’s 5 Selec-Terrain settings: Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock, the latter of which is Trailhawk-exclusive. Although each of the first four Selec-Terrain settings has its own unique calibration and settings for the named conditions, it’s best to think of Rock as the only real off-road mode. In Rock, not only is the Compass’ low-range engaged, but the Jeep can also send nearly 100 percent of its power to any one wheel. It uses its brakes to mimic locking differentials, and the traction control computers do everything they can to help the Compass Trailhawk mimic its more capable big brothers.
Off-road on a Jeep-designed course featuring dirt moguls, ditches, loose and big rocks, and a muddy stream crossing, the Compass motored up and down with hardly a stumble. It’s tough to truly evaluate how capable the Compass is on a course planned to make it look good, but things do seem promising. Sightlines from behind the wheel are good. Even when hanging a wheel in the air, there aren’t any signs of flex from the chassis or creaks in the cabin. The Jeep does have to work hard for traction on slick, loose rock up steep hills, but being aggressive with the throttle and letting the Trailhawk’s computers route power to the tires where there’s grip sorts things out. More torque and knobbier tires would serve to make the Compass Trailhawk even better, but for the average weekend warrior whose off-roading needs are less Moab rock crawling and more in the lines of a National Park four-wheel-drive trail, the Compass Trailhawk will likely prove to be more than capable.
Looking outside its driving dynamics, the Jeep Compass is a compelling little compact crossover. The sharp mini-Grand Cherokee sheet metal opens up into a handsome, if a bit restrained interior. The cabin will feel immediately at home to anyone who has ever spent time in a Cherokee or Grand Cherokee. It features a nice mix of cloth and leather, and price-appropriate trim and plastics. The front buckets are comfortable, and the 60/40 split folding rear seats are roomy enough for six-footers to sit in back, though the seatbacks do feel rather upright.
Fuel economy is near top of the segment, with all-wheel-drive automatic models such as the Trailhawk netting an EPA-estimated 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined. Pricing is reasonable too, with the Compass Trailhawk starting at $29,690. Ultimately the 2017 Jeep Compass seems poised to do exactly as Jeep intended—appease the faithful and bring in fresh blood. The fact that the Compass Trailhawk remains faithful to the Jeep brand’s off-road ethos shows that just like it was in 1941, Jeep is aiming for world domination.
|2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.4L/180-hp/175-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,650 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||173.0 x 73.8 x 64.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.4 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|